European Parliament President brings message of hope to Israelis and Palestinians

European Parliament President brings message of hope to Israelis and Palestinians
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola addressing the Israeli parliament on 23 May, credit: EU, 2022 - EP

The newly elected President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola paid an official visit to Israel on Monday where she addressed the Israeli parliament and visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

She was elected as President in January 2022 and will lead the European Parliament until a new Parliament is constituted following the European elections in 2024. Born in Malta in 1979, she has been an MEP since 2013 and is the youngest president ever elected.

On Monday morning, she visited Yad Vashem, the International Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.

“Our duty is to keep the memory of Holocaust victims alive,” she twitted after the visit. “To never forget. To teach next generations. This morning I visited @yadvashem in Israel to pay tribute to the millions of lives lost. To salute the endurance of survivors. To keep the memory alive. We remember.”

In her speech to the Israeli parliament (Knesset), she described the visit to Yad Vashem as an emotional reminder of all the lives murdered and lost because they were Jewish. “It pains me to say that today we are seeing anti-Semitism on the rise. We know that this is a warning sign for humanity. And it matters to all of us.”

“To be anti-Semitic is to be anti-European. And every day we still witness attacks on Jews, on synagogues. Places of peace, of God, of Worship, still remain targets. The European Parliament is committed to breaking the cycle. To combating anti-Semitism. To ensuring that we remember the devastation of history and that the lessons of the past will never be forgotten.”

She referred to French politician Simone Veil, the first female President of the European parliament, who survived the horror and evil of Auschwitz with a number tattooed by the Nazis, to change the face of Europe. “Our commitment is therefore as personal as it is institutional. And I commit to you that we will not waver.”

EU support to peace process

In the political part of her speech, she focused on the future and performed a diplomatic balancing act in underling the strong ties and the partnership between the EU and Israel while expressing the European position on the peace process. The process has been dormant for years and put on hold by the current Israeli government under right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

The coalition government, constantly under pressure by former prime-minister Netanyahu and the incitement by extremists in the parliament, has recently lost its majority in the Knesset because of deserters or defectors to the opposition and is surviving day by day.

“I am an optimist, but I am not blind to the challenges that you confront,” Roberta Metsola said. “To the threats – some existential – that you face; of the difficulties in supporting a vibrant democracy. I am an optimist because I know that these challenges can be overcome.”

“Europe is made up of peoples from different communities with different cultures, nations, beliefs and traditions,” she added, referring to the European history and experience. “Our Parliament’s role is to ensure that everyone is included in our Europe– that no one is left behind.”

Europe is about bringing people together, about defending the principles that led us from the ashes of war and Holocaust to peace and prosperity, she underlined.

“Peace is difficult - but in Europe we know that peace is possible. Peace with security. Peace with liberty. Peace with dignity. Peace with justice. Peace is not easy. It must mean living with differences in the mutual respect that coexistence requires. It must mean justice. It must mean equality of opportunity. It must mean parents who can see a future for their children.”

Her message of hope was directed not only to Israelis and Palestinians but also to the Russian regime which has brought war back to Europe by its unprovoked invasion of a sovereign, independent Ukraine. “Those who preach violence do not have the answers. Violence has never been a solution. Terrorism is never justified. There are no excuses for terror.”

She repeated EU’s position on a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace solution. “The European Parliament firmly supports the Middle East Peace Process. We support a two-state solution - with the secure State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous, viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security.”

She is aware of that there are those on both sides, including in the Israeli unstable coalition government and in the Israeli parliament, who do not agree. “I know there have been multiple false starts to this process. I know that not everyone sees peace as a goal…But peace is the only way forward. The only way for Israelis and Palestinians to live in safety and prosperity.”

The two-state solution is still possible if there is good will on both sides but as the occupation of Palestinian territories since the six-days war in 1967 continues with no peace perspective it remains a dream.

Tension in Jerusalem

Addressing the Israeli parliament and find common ground with all its members has always been difficult.

When Martin Schultz - Metsola’s predecessor as European Parliament President - addressed the Knesset in 2014,  an incautious remark by him on the water allocation in the conflict resulted in a demonstrative exit from the Knesset by then economy minister Bennett and his party members with Bennett accusing him of lying.

This time Metsola was only interrupted by shouting from Knesset member Ahmad Tibi of the Arab-majority Joint List and far-right and racist Itamar Ben-Gvir from a Jewish religious party. The former, because Metsola did not mention the occupation explicitly, the latter presumably because that she talked about a two-state solution.

Her visit took place against the backdrop of a new terror wave which has hit Israel for about two months, as Knesset speaker Mickey Levy reminded the European Parliament President. Levy asked her to condition economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority on the cessation of incitement.

That is not likely to happen as the assistance is necessary to prevent the situation from further deteriorating. It would also go against the Israeli government’s own policy which focuses on economic progress until the conditions, as it sees them, for political talks are ripe and can be agreed upon by all parties in Bennett’s government.

Despite the tension, in particular in Jerusalem during the recent Jewish and Muslim holidays, the situation did not spiral totally out of control. But next event, planned to take place in the capital on 29 May, might escalate to violence and even erupt in war as it did last year when Hamas in Gaza launched rockets under the pretext of defending the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Last week, the Israeli public security minister decided to allow the controversial and provocative Flag March to once again pass through the Damascus gate and the Muslim quarter in Jerusalem despite the concerns of the security establishment.

Asked to comment on the situation at this stage, Peter Stano, EU lead spokesperson on foreign affairs, told The Brussels Times on Monday that the initial decision to allow the flag march “to proceed through this route in occupied East Jerusalem on 29 May is a matter of concern”.

“We understand that the final decision has yet to be made,” he added. “As we have stressed repeatedly in the past days and weeks, the EU underscores the importance of avoiding any actions or provocations that would put further pressure on an already very tense environment. The EU reiterates its call on all sides to engage in de-escalatory efforts.”

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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